Rishi Sunak has a plan. It’s not a very cunning plan, but it is one that Baldrick would be proud of. The prime minister, in response to the largely expected Supreme Court ruling on the Rwanda deportation plan, is not a happy bunny. He has, yet again, been thwarted (who ever used that word before Brexit?), by the law. And here was him thinking that as PM, he was the one that made all the laws, and everyone had to obey him.
The Supreme Court decision
On Wednesday 15 November, the UK Supreme Court handed down its ruling in response to former home secretary Suella Braverman’s final appeal. The court unanimously dismissed the appeal – an attempt to overturn earlier rulings – and upheld the Court of Appeal’s earlier conclusion that “the Rwanda policy is unlawful”.
In their judgment the court determined there were “substantial grounds” for believing there was a real risk of claims being wrongly determined in Rwanda. This could lead to asylum seekers being subjected to human rights breaches and to being returned wrongfully to their country of origin. Lord reed concluded, “the Home Secretary’s appeal is therefore dismissed”.
Sunak’s desperate Rwanda plan
Despite recent suggestions from Braverman that there was no plan B in the event of the Supreme Court ruling against the government, Sunak seems to have other ideas. His response was immediate, which rather suggested he already suspected what the court’s decision might be. Appearing at a news conference, Sunak said he was taking “the extraordinary step of announcing emergency legislation” which would “enable parliament to confirm that our new treaty is safe”. Which, of course, it wouldn’t be.
He went on to say that he would “not allow a foreign court, like the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), to block these flights”, rather ignoring the fact that it was highest court in the UK that made this final ruling.
“The plan in full”, according to Sunak, is to ratify a new agreement with Rwanda that will provide legal protections. Asylum seekers deported from the UK would be “protected against removal” from Rwanda by law. Whether the Rwandan government, or indeed the British one, could be trusted to respect and abide by international law is questionable, to say the least.
Sunak is, he says, “prepared to change our laws and revisit those international relationships to remove the obstacles in our way”. Should the ECHR choose “to intervene against parliament”, the PM is “prepared to do whatever is necessary to get flights off”. Sunak went on say that the British people expect the “boats to stop”, and claimed – despite all evidence to the contrary – that progress is being made.
Sunak’s speech, repeated on social media, was accompanied by a meme stating, “When I said I would stop the boats, I meant it”. His Twitter (X) thread ended with him reiterating the “need to stop the boats” and with the suggestion that the Rwanda deportation policy was “an essential part of the deterrent”. The rise this year in the numbers of desperate asylum seekers willing to risk all to cross the Channel in small boats would appear to contradict that claim.
There has been widespread criticism of the Rwanda policy both in parliament and across social media. Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said at the despatch box on Wednesday that the court ruling had exposed a “complete failure of Sunak’s flagship policy and his judgment”. Addressing the new home secretary, James Cleverly – the eighth home secretary in eight years – Cooper said the government was “wasting time, wasting money, and letting the country down”.
As Cleverly attempted to defend the policy in parliament, Cooper alleged that he had previously, in private, described the policy as “batshit”. The home secretary failed to deny the claim, and stated on TV the following day that he didn’t remember “saying anything like that”.
Green MP Caroline Lucas described the policy as “utterly inhumane, grotesquely immoral and totally unworkable”. She pleaded with Sunak for an asylum policy that would treat people with “respect and dignity”.
In response to Sunak’s statement, Jessica Simor KC described the comments as “beyond idiotic”. Simor also called on Sunak to fire Deputy Chairman Lee Anderson, for saying government should “ignore the laws and send them straight back”. Former Downing Street chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, described the government’s response as “utterly depressing”, asking what had happened to the party that he devoted 30 years of his life to.
Apart from Sunak and his cunning plan B, no doubt we can expect the Brexiters to be ranting about “illegal” immigrants, woke lawyers and the ECHR for as long (or as short) as they remain in power. But no amount of ranting will return the millions in public money paid to Rwanda and government lawyers. No amount of ranting will reduce the numbers of asylum seekers risking life and limb in small boats in dangerous waters. No amount of ranting will save the government from election defeat.
Another empty threat
In 1950, following WW2, the ECHR was drafted to protect human rights and fundamental freedoms for the people of Europe. It protects citizens from, amongst other things, their own governments. So, it’s not hard to see why its removal might appeal to the man who thinks he’s running our country. While the government may threaten to pull out of the ECHR, it’s an empty threat. Even if it had the time available, such an action would unravel the Good Friday agreement and further alienate Britain in the eyes of the international community – just for starters.
While the country must sit back and wait for a different government with a different plan, we can only feel for those suffering as a result of the current one. With no safe asylum routes in place and a tragically slow asylum approval process, desperate people are being left in desperate situations by a desperate government.
Sunak’s latest cunning plan is just another terrible idea that’s doomed to failure. Rather like the government, the Tory party and the prime minister himself. Any court in the land would surely not hesitate to come to the same conclusion.